Revealed: Why the River Wensum is running so low

River levels are low on the WensumByline: Sonya Duncan(C) Archant 2020

River levels are low on the WensumByline: Sonya Duncan(C) Archant 2020 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

The look of the main river flowing through Norwich could be drastically changed for generations to come - if tests at a city pumping station prove beneficial.

The River Wensum from Whitefriars bridge. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The River Wensum from Whitefriars bridge. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

City-dwellers close to the Wensum in Norwich have noticed that over the past few days the water level has been particularly low, with one person commenting that it was the lowest they had seen it in a decade.

Now, it can be revealed that it is by design, with the Environment Agency deliberately reducing the level as part of an ongoing trial into how the river looks with less water.

The trial, which began on Monday, February 10, has seen the sluice gates opened at New Mills pumping station to allow the EA to monitor water depths and velocity at several locations along the river, heading upstream towards Hellesdon.

It is being carried out to see whether lower water levels could improve conditions for the many different species that occupy the river, including fish, eels and water voles. One of these benefits is that it may make it easier for fish and eels to move upstream.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: "The trial will inform us all of what the river may look like if the water level upstream is reduced. At present we maintain the sluices to keep a relatively high level but this has no flood risk benefit to Norwich.

"It is possible that reducing the level will have major ecological benefits and make the river function in a more natural state.

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"It is important, however, that we understand all the implications and view-points of such an action so we can understand how best to manage the sluices in the future."

Another trial could be carried out in the summer, which may eventually result in the EA deciding to make the change permanent, which it said would result in "an increase in free-flowing water and improvements in habitats typical of a Norfolk chalk river".

Peter Francis, of Tanners Court, was one of those who noticed the reduction in levels and was concerned.

He said: "I certainly thought it was odd, it was as low as I had seen it in 10 years of living by the Wensum. I would be concerned that if it was made permanent it may make the river more difficult for people to access for activities like canoeing."